The abundance of Asian restaurants in Ames and the quality of the food they serve will likely surprise newcomers to the city. Whether they're looking for Chinese, Indian Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Mongolian or Indonesian cuisine, they're certain to discover something that suits their taste. While sampling the dishes at each restaurant, they might find it difficult to categorize them. It's not uncommon for restaurateurs to serve dishes from several different culinary traditions — or to fuse several traditions in a single dish. All told, there's enough variety on every menu to ensure that an adventurous diner will never be bored.
Chinese Homestyle Cooking
Song Chung, owner of Chinese Homestyle Cooking shows a flair for fusing traditions common to so many Asian restaurant owners in Ames. Those who like their Chinese food with a Korean twist can try the Kim Chi Fried Rice. In addition to being intensely tangy, spicy and salty, this dish is also quite filling. Song recommends the Ma Po Tofu to vegetarians.
Students whose tastes run to tangy dishes are sure to enjoy Cocost's Lemon Chicken or Mustard Pork. Those who prefer sweet entrees will like the Teriyaki Beef or the Sweet and Sour Chicken. Vegetarians can substitute tofu or fried gluten for the meat in any dish on the menu. All customers are sure to appreciate the fast service and relaxed ambience at this Welch Avenue mainstay.
Golden Wok is the only Chinese restaurant in Ames (and for that matter, all of Story County) that delivers its food to customers' homes. It stays open late, so it's also one of your best bets for satisfying late-night cravings.
On its lower level, the restaurant offers ice cream, bubble tea, shaved ice drinks and milkshakes. While enjoying any of these, customers can pass the time with karaoke, pool or a variety of free-to-play console games.
Manager Ivan Mang said the Black Pepper Beef and Thai Angry Chicken are popular among Asian students, while milder fare like Orange Chicken is preferred by American ones. He encourages both to come and sample dishes this August, when Golden Wok will introduce a new menu devised by a renowned Taiwanese chef.
House of Chen
Opened in the 1970s, House of Chen bills itself as the "first Chinese restaurant in Ames." While accurate, that description doesn't quite do it justice. Since taking it over a decade ago, current owner John Papibourne has expanded menu offerings to include Laotian and Vietnamese dishes. The best of the latter is the pho, an aromatic beef noodle soup that he serves with shrimp, jalapenos, cilantro and lemongrass.
Joy's Mongolian Grill
Interviewed on the subject of her restaurant's name, owner Joy Zhao said "Joy's Mongolian Grill" was actually a misnomer, as her restaurant now serves food inspired by the culinary traditions of northern China. She added that the word "Mongolian" probably needed to be removed from the name. So much for categorizing the place. In any case, some of the dishes served at the Grill, like the Mu Xu Rou (a dish made with a lung-moisturizing mushroom called "wood ear") can't be found anywhere else in Ames. Zhao's favorite dish on the menu is the Stewed Pork Leg.
For restaurant employee Jett Liu, Little Taipei's low prices, high standards and speed of service elevate it above similar places in Ames. He said Sweet and Sour Chicken, Mongolian Beef and Angry Chicken are among its most popular dishes, and recommends the Szechwan Mixed Vegetables to vegetarian diners. Beginning in September 2011, drinkers will be able to order beer at the restaurant.
Host Ryan Pei said customers like the "solid Asian theme" of The Mandarin's décor. Judging from the nine consecutive years Ames Tribune readers have voted it "Best Asian/Chinese Restaurant," that's not all people like about it. Doubtless they also appreciate the Mandarin's spacious dining area, which easily accommodates large parties, and the brief waits for carryout food, which Pei pegs at about 10 minutes for a single dish. Customers of drinking age can take advantage of the full bar.
The most popular dish at this Lincoln Way eatery is the Szechuan Hot Pot, which includes squid, crab and shrimp. Those seeking an authentic taste of China would do well to try the Sour Pig Intestines. The less adventurous might like the Hot Braised Chicken or any form of the Lo Mein. In addition to its meat-based offerings, May House has a fair selection of vegetarian options, including a green bean entrée and a dish based around dried tofu.
Diners looking for something sweet, starchy and salty won't be disappointed by the Mu Shu Pork. This dish is served with small pancakes made of rice flour. One traditionally puts the meat and vegetables onto a pancake, tops it with a sauce (such as the hoisin sauce New China offers) and rolls it up before eating it.
Diners after old favorites like General Tso's Chicken, Egg Drop Soup and Mongolian Beef will surely find something to satisfy them at King Buffet. They can eat all they care to for a set per-customer fee. Like few other Chinese restaurants in Ames, King Buffet has a soft-serve machine. It also serves a small selection of beers.
Panda Express' two biggest selling points for students are the convenience of its location (right on the lower level of the Memorial Union) and the speed with which its food is prepared. Dishes like Fried Rice and Beef and Broccoli are popular at the MU location, which is one of hundreds that Panda Express operates nationwide.
Though it's only been open since 2010, Indian Delights has earned broad approval from Ames diners; it is currently the best-reviewed restaurant on the local entertainment site Ames Beat. Part of its appeal might derive from the high quality of vegetarian dishes like Chana Masala (made with chickpeas) and Aloo Gobee (made with cauliflower and potatoes). Diners could be fans of expertly seasoned meat dishes like the Lamb Biryani. Or perhaps they're charmed by the attentive service owner Dipak Biswas and his waitstaff give to every customer.
Owner Gurdeep Banwait takes pride in his restaurant, where he's been serving Indian food for the past six years. He said the Tandoori Chicken, which is cooked in a special clay oven, is his most popular dish. He highly recommends his handmade naan, a type of Indian flatbread. Beer lovers can sample his selection of Indian brews, which includes bottled Taj Mahal, Flying Horse and Kingfisher.
Since opening at the former site of Bali Satay House in 2010, this restaurant/bar/club has been the only place in town to get Indonesian food. Owner Adolfo Ninaquispe recommends the Baki Ayam, a dish with egg noodles and stir-fried chicken. For cocktail fans, he suggests a drink he calls the AMF (the initialism stands for a phrase we can't print here); it features rum, vodka, gin, Triple Sec, Blue Curacao, sweet and sour mix and Sprite. Those who'd rather dance than eat can catch evening sets by DJs that Ninaquispe brings in from all over the world.
Aside from Mongolian Buffet, this is the only restaurant in Ames where customers can see their food prepared in front of them. Chefs demonstrate their skill by deftly chopping up and tossing around meat and vegetables. They add a dash of drama by briefly setting their grills aflame. Chefs also make a wide selection of sushi dishes to order, though these are prepared away from the main dining area. There is an ample selection of alcoholic drinks available.
Shogun Japanese Steak House
Tucked in a nondescript business plaza on Lincoln Way, this restaurant serves steak, sushi and sashimi. It's known for its Yummy Roll, which includes eel, avocado and cream cheese, and its M M Roll, which is stuffed with shrimp tempura and topped with spicy tuna and crabmeat salad. For those who aren't fans of sushi, cooked dishes such as teriyaki, tempura-battered meats and yakisoba are available as well.
The Scallion is the only restaurant in Ames with a menu that focuses on traditional Korean dishes. Diners who like their food tangy and spicy should try the Kim Chi Stew. Those who crave a touch of sweetness with their spice should opt for the Beef Bulgogi. The heartiest dish on the menu is probably the Bibimbap, a mixture of meat, vegetables, steamed rice and fried eggs. A small selection of prepackaged ice cream treats and popsicles is available in the dining area.
Much like the chain HuHot, Mongolian Buffet offers patrons the chance to pick proteins, vegetables, noodles and sauces from stations adjacent to the dining area. Once they've heaped bowls with their selections, they can bring them to a cook and watch as he makes a meal from them. If they're over 21, customers can wash down their meals with a Chinese beer like Tsingtao or a Japanese one like Sapporo. Many precooked entrees and deserts are also available.
Located in downtown Ames, the Spice has a luxurious ambience and several dishes you won't find anywhere else in Ames. Diners in the mood for seafood can try the Fresh Herb Snapper or the Shrimp Curry. Vegetarians can opt for a meat-free Pad Thai. Drinkers can avail themselves of sake and plum wine, as well as more familiar beverages like beer and wine.
Thai Kitchen's impressively long and varied list of dishes has kept diners coming to the restaurant for the past decade. Owner Kitti Chittmvaich said noodle entrees like Pad Thai, Pad Key Mao and the Pad See Eil are among the most popular he serves.
A bountiful selection of curry dishes is available. They range from milder varieties like Yellow Curry to intensely hot ones like Jungle Curry.
Soups like Tom Ka Kai and Tom Yum Kung meld the flavors of coconut milk, lime, lemongrass and chilli peppers.
Diners who want a simple, satisfying desert will find it worth their while to try the Mango with Sticky Rice or the Fried Banana.
This restaurant earns its place in the "Vietnamese" category by virtue of the several Vietnamese dishes owner Hong Willer promotes as specialties. Among these are versions of the Banh Mi, a type of sandwich popular in Vietnam. Common Banh Mi ingredients include French bread, mayonnaise, pickles, cilantro and jalapenos. Of course, diners can substitute many different kinds of meats and vegetables for the ones listed. The pho is also worth their while to try. If they're looking for more than just a meal, diners of drinking age can order something from the restaurant's well-stocked bar.
Le's is the only Vietnamese restaurant in town that advertises itself as such. The Pork and Shrimp Spring Rolls, which come in a light vermicelli wrapper, are by far the best appetizer this restaurant offers. The pho, made according to owner Khe Le's recipe, is one of the most popular dishes on the menu.